Category: Science

Understanding and Protecting the Planet, Enriching Human Life and Society — UC San Diego Founders Symposium 2014

8232This annual celebration of UC San Diego’s founding in 1960 highlights guest speakers showcasing the knowledge and innovation originating on this dynamic campus.

Areas of research cover various topics, from air quality and the environment, economics of energy costs and climate change, to personalized cancer treatment and big data.

The 2014 Founders Symposium features top UC San Diego faculty presenting their latest research, including:

Matthew Alford of Scripps Institution of Oceanography on “Chasing Waves: Measuring Skyscraper-High Waves Beneath the Sea and Their Importance for Submarines, Coastal Ecosystems and Climate

Eugene Pawlak from the Dept. of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering on “Turbulence: Chicken Soup for the Coral Reef Soul

Economist Richard Carson on “China: Consumption, CO2 and Climate Change

Dr. Razelle Kurzrock of the Moores Cancer Center on “Personalized Cancer Therapy: Promise and Challenge

William Griswold of Computer Science and Engineering on “Pervasive Air-Quality Monitoring via the Crowd

Dr. Lucila Ohno-Machado, associate dean for Informatics and Technology on “Big Data: What it Means To You

Watch this program online or browse more programs from The UC San Diego Founders’ Symposium.

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Profiles in Discovery: Nick Spitzer – The Ever-Changing Brain: From Embryo To Adult

8232Early neurological dogma was that a brain’s neurons were hardwired to be only one type of signaling molecule and nothing else. Turns out, this belief was wrong. Nick Spitzer, UC San Diego professor and director of the UCSD Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind, proved that neurons could change from one type of transmitter to another. When the environment changes acutely, the brain changes also.

How the embryonic nervous system is assembled and the adult brain is modified depend on both genes and the environment – experiences such as learning and memory that can radically change the brain’s wiring or neuronal function. Professor Spitzer discusses his studies that have provided a new look at how neuronal wiring is assembled in the developing brain and the impact that environment has on continually shaping the brain later in life.

Tune in to this presentation of Profiles in Discovery: The Ever Changing Brain – From Embryo to Adult, with Nick Spitzer on UCTV.

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The Domestication of Animals and Human Evolution

8232What can the changes that made cuddly pets from steely predators tell us about ourselves? What do differences such as pointy ears or floppy ears, a long snout or a short one, a protruding jaw or a child-like face, or the timing and pace of brain development tell us?

These are just a few of the characteristics that a convergence of views in the study of animal domestication may tell us about our own evolution as a species in the more distant past. Specifically, it has been suggested that a number of the unique anatomical, neural, developmental, social, cognitive and communicative traits that define our species may be attributable to selection for lack of aggression and to a process of self-domestication.

Join another fascinating exploration of ourselves as this symposium brings together researchers from a variety of research backgrounds to examine these concepts and to elucidate further the possible role of domestication in human evolution.

Watch CARTA – Domestication and Human Evolution.

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Michael Pollan: “Don’t buy any cereal that changes the color of the milk.”

8232This year, renowned journalist, author, and food intellectual Michael Pollan received the 2014 Nierenberg Award for Science in the Public Interest.

“Michael Pollan has shown that an English major can do great service to science in the public interest,” said Walter Tschinkel, one of many who introduced Pollan. “Science very much needs writers like Michael Pollan to bridge the gap between scientists and the wider public… to make science meaningful, relevant, and accessible… and just perhaps to influence people and public thinking about important social, philosophical and scientific issues.”

After receiving his award, Pollan sat down with KPBS News Editor, Tom Fudge and talked about everything from the lesson Pollan learned from a woodchuck, to the carbon problem, his love of food, and how to feed the world.

The problem of getting carbon back into the soil:

“I think the future, the next set of important gains come not from [seed] breeding, but from understanding the soil microbiome and manipulating that environment.”

His relationship with food:

“I enjoy food now more than I used to… I think I’m less self-conscious about my eating than a lot of my readers are… and I think I’ve made a certain number of people that you probably know insufferable.”

Healthy eating:

“Eating well is easier if you have some money, and that’s one of the real tragedies of the food system we have – that the cheapest calories are so unhealthy.”

One of Pollan’s “Food Rules:”

“Don’t buy any cereal that changes the color of the milk.”

The difficulty of political change:

“It’s very much in the interest of political leaders to have our food be cheap even if it’s unhealthy. When you get spikes in food prices, you get political restives, you get riots, you get revolutions. And every political leader understands this. So they’re willing to put up with a lot of negative side effects of cheap food, as long as the price stays down. And this, in a way, is the biggest impediment to changing the food system.”

Feeding the world:

“The goal is for the world to be able to feed itself. The idea that we grow all the grain and dump it on the rest of the world is incredibly arrogant.”

“There’s plenty of food. We’re now growing 2800 calories per person per day… That’s for everybody living on the planet. We still have a billion who are hungry. So quantity is not the problem with feeding the world. We have to look at equity. We have to look at who controls the land. We have to look at diet. We have to look at waste.”

Watch more of this enlightening interview: An Evening with Michael Pollan: Nierenberg Award 2014.

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What Part Neanderthal Are You?

8232Turns out, there’s a little Neanderthal in all of us.

• In 2010, Svante Pääbo and his colleagues unveiled the Neanderthal genome.

• Pääbo is a biologist and evolutionary anthropologist. He is also the director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

• His research shows that Humans and Neanderthals interbred in the prehistoric past.

• Thus Neanderthal DNA makes up 1% to 2% of the genome of many modern humans…

• …Except Africans, who have no Neanderthal contribution. (Watch the video to learn why).

• Our Neanderthal relatives became extinct 30,000 years ago. See what other extinct forms of humans there are.

What makes humans human? Find out:

Watch A Neanderthal Perspective on Human Origins with Svante Pääbo.

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